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EDF forced to cut generation at nuclear power plants due to heat and low river levels

23 July 2019

The heatwave across France this week will exacerbate drought conditions that have led to water restrictions in 73 departments - and the continued arid spell is affecting electricity production.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

EDF is prolonging the shutdown of both reactors at its Golfech nuclear plant from July 23 due to low levels and high water temperatures in the Garonne river in south-western France.
It also announced it would reduce output by 850 MW for several days at its St Alban plant on the Rhone, which has a maximum output of 2,670 MW.
In recent weeks the state utility has also been forced to cut power generation at its Bugey, Cruas and Tricastin nuclear plants due to low water levels on the Rhone.
The hot weather and lack of rainfall so far this year mean aquifer, groundwater and river levels are low, officials at the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières (BRGM) said.
France has recorded what has been termed as a 'rain deficit' - in which there has not been enough winter rain to fully replenish groundwater or river levels - for the past two years.
On the whole, 2019 has been dry. It rained relatively little during the winter and, while Spring rainfall have been described as 'normal', high temperatures so far in the summer have placed a strain on water levels, experts have said, leaving them generally much lower last year at this time.
Summer storms - such as the heatwave-ending ones forecast at the end of the week - will not provide much relief. Rain in the high summer does not usually recharge groundwater levels, as it is usually absorbed by plants and trees or evaporates quickly. And because the ground is so dry, heavy rain from any storms that do occur will simply run off before it can be absorbed.
The key time for rebuilding water levels in France will begin in October, experts say. At that time - immediately after the summer - water levels are at their lowest and in greatest need of recharging. Another dry winter could leave water levels dangerously low at the beginning of summer 2020, they warn.
The use of water from rivers as a coolant for nuclear plants is regulated by law to protect plant and animal life and it is obliged to cut electricity generation in hot weather when water temperatures rise, or when river levels and the flow rate are low.

EDF operates France’s 58 nuclear reactors, which together account for over 75% of its electricity needs.

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